The Tiger Woods phenomenon that sucked my mother and aunt into golf has apparently been a gateway of sorts because last week their shouts of "Go, Shaq!" forced me to close the door to the room where I was trying to sleep. I'm almost certain they weren't basketball fans before. In any case, I eventually gave up my attempt at slumber and joined them for the last half of an NBA playoff game. They are fans of Shaq and Kobe. They are not wild about Allen Iverson. The tattoos seem to disturb them.
"Lord, that poor child," my mother said when the camera lingered on the heavily decorated Iverson. She said this with a mixture of genuine pity and just a splash of "what a shame," as though the guy was in pain (which, as it turns out, Iverson frequently is, not from the tattoos but from injuries).
"He's just got too many," my aunt chimed in with a high-pitched voice of concern and amazement.
At that point I posited that it might be interesting to say something like "I'm thinking about getting a tattoo," but thought better of it. I have to admit it's tempting. I am intrigued by body adornment. Not the piercing or puncturing of anything (other than an ear), mind you, but tattooing. I've considered various locations -- ankle, belly button, hip, back of the neck, etc. -- but, always I've managed to talk myself out of it.
The ankle is a location that could be inconspicuous or not, depending on what you're wearing. Good spot. Had a boss with a tattoo on the ankle, a boyfriend, too. Yes, I thought for a while, I'll get one on the ankle. Then, they tell me the ankle is a really painful place for tattooing -- skin and bone and very little flesh. OK, so not the ankle.
I've got more flesh than I'd care to admit around my belly button, so I considered that spot for a minute. A stylized sun rimming my navel -- I'm a Leo, ruled by the sun, the astrology books say -- wouldn't that be cute? Then, it occurs to me that because there is indeed a generous amount of flesh around my bellybutton and it's unlikely I'll be wearing a cropped top or other such garment in the immediate future, I'd hardly be able to show off said solar tattoo (publicly at least). Then it also occurs to me that one day I might just produce some offspring and what will happen to the tattoo when the stomach balloons? OK, so not the bellybutton.
Back of the neck? I recall a movie in which vampires kept human servants to feed off, and each vampire had his mark tattooed on the neck of his servants. Freaky, but cool. Then I picture the tattoo needle buzzing away at the base of my neck, near my spinal cord. Totally unfounded fear, I'm sure, but, uh ... There's a pattern here, and really it's all about cowardice, the needle and the pain.
My friend Angela Ashner tells me the pain isn't that bad.
"It's like having your eyebrows plucked. A little stinging sensation," she insists. "It's actually more uncomfortable right after, when the blood starts rushing back to the area. But by that time, you're so proud that you've done it. ... I felt like one tough mama."
Angela is not alone in her decision to put everlasting embellishment (unless you go through the tedious removal process, which is another story) before pain. She and Allen Iverson and my friend Karen's teenage daughter -- who recently had a set of the immensely popular Japanese character letters inked into the skin of her stomach and a tiger, her "favorite animal," etched into her lower back -- are among the indelibly marked millions, many of whom say the practice is addictive.
After years of back and forth, Angela recently allowed a girlfriend to present her with a birthday trip to a local tattoo parlor. She now has a black panther slinking up her back from buttocks to waist.
"Ten years ago, I didn't think a tattoo would fit in to my life, into what it meant to be a professional, because I was buying into stereotypes of what kind of people have tattoos," said Angela, who is 35. "By the time I got to 30, I knew I wanted one, damn what anyone thinks. I always wanted the panther but kept thinking I should choose something more feminine. But I drive a big, red Dodge Ram truck. It's not ladylike, but I feel powerful and sexy in it. That's how I feel when I look at my tattoo -- powerful and sexy."